“Everybody’s got the right to be happy,” announces a creepy ringmaster figure (Shane Desmond) in the opening number of Fabrefaction Theatre Company’s haunting production. But what if the thing will make you happy is to avenge the South for the Civil War, or win the affections of a murderous cult leader? The title characters of Assassins come across as a rogue’s gallery of historical losers who see violence as a way of achieving their dreams. To the extent that they’re now all in the history books, whether as villains or footnotes, suggests they succeeded at least partially.
Assassins takes place in a kind of limbo that resembles a carnival shooting gallery, where the various murderers and wannabes mingle. In “The Gun Song,” John Wilkes Booth (Brian Clowdus), Charles Guiteau (Steve Hudson) and Leon Czolgosz (Daniel Hinton) — the killers of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley — croon barbershop-quartet style about how guns can change the world. They receive bumbling accompaniment from Sarah Jane Moore (Heidi Cline McKerley in an amusingly broad performance), a pant-suited, Tab-drinking mom who attempted to kill President Ford in 1975.
Despite being populated by self-deluded antiheroes, Assassins delivers a positive figure in the person of Jeremy Wood’s balladeer, a wholesome, All-American troubadour whose songs appeal to better angels of our nature. In a recurring theme, the balladeer’s grounded morality repeatedly collides with the delusions and bitterness of various assassins. Director Justin Anderson’s emphasis on this conflict gives Assassins a compelling through-line to connect scenes that can feel like independent sketches.
Hilton’s Czolgosz comes across as the least narcissistic and most sympathetic assassin, as he claims that shooting McKinley will defend mistreated workers. At times, the loveliness of the music provides a counterpoint to the assassins’ bloody schemes, even during Booth’s soaring, racist self-justification. John Hinckley (Craig Waldrip) and Squeaky Fromme (Christina Hoff) sing a duet to their true loves — movie star Jodie Foster and lunatic cult leader Charles Manson, respectively — giving a pathetic impression of squandered energies and emotions.
At times the assassins’ non-musical interactions feel like repetitive padding, like the fact that Santa-suit wearing Samuel Byck (Michael Henry Harris), who plotted to fly a plane into Richard Nixon’s White House, has two monologues when one would be sufficient. Fortunately the play builds to a long, snappy dialogue scene with Booth’s ghost appearing to Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas book depository to convince him to shoot Kennedy. It’s like a tightly-written script for “The Twilight Zone.”
Assassins delivers many excellent numbers, with styles derived from the American song book. John Philips Sousa inspires the melody of “How I Saved Roosevelt,” in which a crowd of bystanders recounts how they prevented Giuseppe Zangara (Dan Ford) from killing president-elect Franklin Roosevelt. (Like the assassins, they’re nobodies who relish a moment in the spotlight.) Go-getting Charles Guiteau gets the showstopper, a vaudeville-style song and dance while ascending the gallows. “The Ballad of Guiteau” features one of Sondheim’s greatest rhymes: “Charlie Guiteau had a crowd at the scaffold, filled up the square / So many people that tickets were raffled / Shine on his shoes, Charlie mounted the stair.”
Fabrefaction’s use of whiteface make-up on the ensemble puts more self-conscious emphasis on the show’s artifice than it needs, and the production I attended suffered from occasional technical glitches with the mics. Nevertheless, Fabrefaction’s cast and staging do justice to some genuinely troubling material, acknowledging the flawed humanity of the characters without reducing them to ironic jokes. While the American dream suggests that a hard-working kid can grow up to become president, Assassins adds the rider that another determined citizen can kill one. We shouldn’t agree with the assassins’ ideals, but we shouldn’t ignore them, either.
Assassins. Through Nov. 11. Fabrefaction Theatre Company, 999 Brady Ave. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m. $27. 404-876-9468. www.fabrefaction.org
The Ferris Wheel sounds really neat, particularly the 18 story height.
I'm glad Looking Glass made the point about Downtown residents. 20 years ago there were…
Actually this will be OVERGROUND - 18 stories in fact. Pay attention!
"crossing boundaries in their own traditional territories."
I thought tradition meant nothing to lefties…
man, i smell another UNDERGROUND
"She's only awful in your myopic minds."
OK Oy, I'll try to keep…